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Calmy-Rey visit to Asia aims at new horizons

In Phnom Penh the Swiss president will visit one of the hospitals set up by the Swiss doctor and cellist Beat Richner (RDB)

Swiss president Micheline Calmy-Rey is starting an official week-long visit to Cambodia and Indonesia on Monday.

This content was published on February 5, 2007 - 08:08

While former French protectorate Cambodia is still trying to shake off its difficult past, Indonesia is undergoing a boom and is becoming an economic and political power in southeast Asia.

The initial part of Calmy-Rey's first trip abroad as Swiss president – she is also the foreign minister – will be devoted to marking a special anniversary. It is exactly 50 years since Switzerland recognised Cambodia on a diplomatic level.

In Phnom Penh, Calmy-Rey will meet King Norodom Sihamoni and other high-ranking officials to discuss economic, development, human rights and governance issues.

Apart from the events surrounding the anniversary, also on the agenda are visits to several Swiss development cooperation projects. Cambodia is still heavily dependent on international aid, which makes up almost two-thirds of the kingdom's budget.

Calmy-Rey will travel to a hospital at Kantha Bopha, one of four large health centres for children set up by Swiss doctor Beat Richner, with help from Swiss donations and funding from the government. This is set to rise to SFr3 million ($2.4 million) in 2007.

"Beat Richner's projects contribute in a substantial way to the functioning of the Cambodian health system," Swiss foreign ministry spokesman Lars Knuchel told swissinfo.

Indonesia

On Wednesday Calmy-Rey is due to move on to Indonesia where heavy rain over the past few days has caused severe flooding, killing at least 29 people and forcing some 340,000 to flee their homes. Switzerland announced on Monday that it had dispatched two experts to help the authorities provide clean water and medical assistance.

Over the past few years the country has been undergoing a development boom – growth in gross domestic product for 2007 is estimated at six per cent – and is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

"Indonesia is becoming an important political and economic partner. Switzerland is therefore very interested in broadening its relations with this country," said Knuchel.

According to Massimo Baggi, in charge of the Asia and Oceania department at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco), practically all the large Swiss companies are active in Indonesia.

"It's a huge market, with many raw materials and which is developing well from a macroeconomic point of view. Our commercial relations are good and potential for growth is not lacking," he told swissinfo.

In the capital Jakarta, after meeting the authorities, Calmy-Rey will hold talks with leaders from different religions in the country, which is majority Muslim.

Coexistence

The coexistence of different cultures and religions is very topical in Indonesia, particularly given the backdrop of international tensions. In the past the country has been hit several times by attacks from Islamic groups.

"I have the impression that things are starting to normalise, even if some uncertainties remain," said Baggi. "It is however clear that security and stability are vital for economic relations."

The Swiss delegation will conclude its southeast Asia visit on Saturday with a trip to the Indonesian province of Aceh, at the northern tip of the island of Sumatra, which was hit hard by the 2004 tsunami. The wave left almost 170,000 people dead and a huge amount of destruction.

In Aceh, Calmy-Rey will inaugurate a drinking water plant, which has been rebuilt using Swiss funds at a cost of SFr4 million.

"In the framework of humanitarian aid and reconstruction after the tsunami, Switzerland has up until now invested altogether around SFr12.5 million in Indonesia," said Knuchel.

The Swiss government has for some time been supporting the peace process in Aceh, which from 1976-2005, was in the throws of a secessionist conflict.

swissinfo, Marzio Pescia

Cambodia

Area: 181,035 sq km
Inhabitants: 14 million
GDP per capita: $346
Swiss residents: 114

The former French protectorate became independent in 1953 and was recognised by Switzerland in 1957.

The country is among the world's poorest and is still paying the price for three decades of bloody conflict.

Switzerland supports Cambodia, by giving aid, financing hospitals, participating in international programmes to encourage the private economy and by supporting the creation of a UN court for crimes committed by members of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.

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Indonesia

Area: 1.9 million sq km
Inhabitants: 222 million
GDP per capita: $1,258
Swiss residents: 786

Switzerland recognised Indonesia in 1949. From 1971 to 1997 the archipelago was one of Switzerland's priority aid countries and a total of SFr277 million was invested there.

In 2005 Swiss exports to Indonesia rose by 13.4% to SFr324 million.

The attacks in Bali of 2005 and 2002 serve as a reminder that the largest Muslim country in the world is still subject to dangerous social tensions.

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